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A Rhode Island family torn apart by ICE

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They tortured us. To take that ride, every time, every month. It’s like you’re swallowing your stomach because you’re looking at your husband, your husband looking at you and your kids are taking that ride. They don’t go to school that day because that could be the last day they could see their father.”


Tracy Njie has been married for nearly 18 years and has three children with her husband, who was recently detained by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), held for three days, and deported to Gambia. Since then, her family has suffered emotional torment and economic ruin. Owing $3500 to National Grid, she called the George Wiley Center for help. Camilo Viveiros, Executive Director of the George Wiley Center, recorded an interview with Njie, which I have transcribed, edited and present to you below. The phone call took place on Friday morning, just before the in car protest outside the Wyatt.


If this story moves you, and you wish to help Tracy Njie and her family, contact the George Wiley Center here. If you wish to send donations to Tracy Njie and her family, include a note that the money is for her, so the George Wiley Center knows the money is not a general donation, but is for Tracy Njie and her family in particular.


Camilo Viveiros: I’m speaking to Tracy Njie. She called here concerned about paying her utilities and told me a really heartbreaking story about what happened to her family, and her husband who was at the Wyatt Detention Center. Tracy, I know this is a really hard time and I appreciate you sharing your family’s story. Can you tell people about the impact of ICE and immigration policies and how it’s impacted your family recently and over the last couple of years?

Tracy Njie: I’m going to do this the best I can. I’ve been married since August 24, 2002. I have three children. My husband worked hard every single day. He came here and he filed for asylum because he was in danger from his country. [Immigration authorities rejected his asylum claim and] told him he would have to go back. Over the years, immigration has held him for three years. Every single month they told us that we had to go in, and threatened our lives every single day, saying that he was going to be deported. He paid our rent, our bills, our cars.

Tracy Njie and children

He was there for every basketball game, every doctor, everything for our kids. And immigration was trying to tell us that our marriage was not real. ICE held him for three years, they let him go. They let him out. We went to several lawyers trying to appeal. When we appealed it, they kept denying it. Then, on November 18th, 2018, he goes to work one day and they deport him. He dropped my kids off. They told them to come in. At the time he was having a problem, he was working two jobs.

I don’t really know how to explain what we’re going through. My husband was a good man. There were many people that got deported that were good men. Now, in this situation, I’m barely holding my roof over my head. I get social security. I’m too proud to go to welfare, because he took care of us. Now I’m going to apply for food stamps and they tell me I have to go to immigration to get a paper that he’s gone, so they don’t count his income, which he paid taxes on his whole life. I go to immigration. They kind curse me, without cursing me. “Oh, get out of here. There’s nothing I can do for you. You need an appointment. Are you an immigrant?” And now it’s been since December, 2018 that I’m trying to file for benefits.


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I was lucky enough to get health benefits because my kids are under the age of 18. What this is doing to my family, my kids are so depressed. I have a 13 year old, a 16 year old almost, my daughter’s almost 18, and a 25 year old. My kids don’t eat, my kids don’t sleep. All they do is cry and worry, mostly about helping me. Second of all, they’re never going to see their dad. I was married to somebody who came home every day. In the process that he was in, the immigration process, every single month we would go there. They would lock me outside because I guess what they do now is only one person can go in. Every time we went to immigration my husband would give me his wallet and my husband would give me his keys and he’d say, “If I don’t come back, I love you.”

This time they held him for three days, then they deported him. I had a lawyer that was supposed to be helping me. We paid him, we didn’t get no results. We had another lawyer that was downtown, this was a very long time ago, forgive me, across the street from the courthouse. We paid him $5,000. No results. Come to find out, that guy was wanted by the feds or something like that. He just disappeared. We had another lawyer downtown. He was a very nice lawyer. He was working with us, but he’s just too much to afford. So in order for me to even go in there and talk to him about it, it’s going to cost me about $2,000. Right now I get $800 a month. I have four kids, two grandchildren. My rent is $1,000.

My electric bill, which is how I got in this situation, is $340 a month. To take care of my kids, I have to provide food. You have cell phone bills, insurance, gas. I really don’t know if anybody can help me, but there’s a lot of people going through it.

Every time that my husband would go to immigration they would say, your country’s terrorist” and stuff like that. Most of the people are very nice people.

Sometimes I don’t know where I’m turning because I don’t know how to go get food. I don’t know how to pay my electric. This man [Camillo] I don’t even know who he is. He’s a blessing. I want to hug his mother and father. I had to beg for food and he actually took the time to care. I don’t know who these people are, but thank you.

Is there anybody that can understand that so many families are going through this in Woonsocket – all the Muslim people. Their families are good people. They don’t drink. They don’t get high. They go to work to take care of their families. They don’t run in the streets. What about the people that are left behind? My husband doesn’t love his kids any less than anybody else in this country. If anything he loves them more, because he works so hard for them.

I’m sorry I’m crying. If anyone could help me. My daughter’s about to be 18. She’s a good student. Good girl… she helps me so much a little bit.

The one thing that I’m lucky for, if I may say this, is that we didn’t have a fake marriage.

We traveled to Africa many times, even though my husband couldn’t go, so my kids could have a relationship with his family.

Camilo Viveiros: There’s a lot of people that are frustrated and angry about that the way they treated you. Your husband should have never been at the Wyatt.

Marie Njie: Oh my God. The Wyatt. They just treat them like animals, especially in this time. We’re going to wake up today and there’s going to be 24 new deaths. It’s horrible. It’s horrible and honest to God, I worry about that. And that my kids are never going to see their dad. It’s crazy. This a hard thing. I don’t even want to be here anymore. Just to live here, it’s like you’re drowning in bills, you’re drowning in everything. My husband, he’s in jeopardy every single day.

Camilo Viveiros: It’s wrong. And there’s a lot of people that know it’s wrong and it’s a disgrace that the people that are mean and heartless have been spending our money to do what they did to your family.

Tracy Njie: It’s embarrassing to have to go beg when you paid your taxes your whole life.

National Grid told me that if I don’t pay them $3,500, I will be cut off. I told him I only get $800 a month. I have to pay my rent. He was like, have my mom help me or somebody. My mom’s going through it so bad. “Well ma’am,” he said, “You can know that after this [pandemic] is over, you’re going to have to pay the whole $3,500 or we will shut you off.”

I’ve never owed a bill. I’ve been paying for 25 years.

Camilo Viveiros: Well, we’re fighting to to win that percentage income payment plan and we want you to take advantage of the programs that the George Wiley Center has won. There’s people today, fighting outside the Wyatt to try to get people sent home.

Tracy Njie: I told my husband that yesterday. I told my husband, I said, I think there’s going to be somebody that maybe can help. He said that’s good. He said, “Tracy, nothing’s forever, because Ramadan is coming on the 24th, and we celebrate Ramadan.” He said, “This one, you have to pray. All you have to do is pray. Nothing is forever.” You know what he told me? He said, “I’m over here. I’m suffering.” My husband lives with no light. He lives with no water. He came here and worked his life his whole life. His whole life, and he has nothing. I told him, I’m going to try so hard to come live there with you. I don’t care. What’s the point of having everything if you don’t have your family.?

Will anybody who has a heart help these people [in the Wyatt], at least look at the people who’ve been working their whole life? Marriage is not easy for anybody. Everybody goes through their things. Immigration brought such a strain on my marriage because immigration tortured him. They tortured us. To take that ride, every time, every month. It’s like you’re swallowing your stomach because you’re looking at your husband, your husband looking at you and your kids are taking that ride. They don’t go to school that day because that could be the last day they could see their father. But the time that they held him, the last time. Oh my God, they treated these people horrible. He was arrested for three days before they deported him.

We are dying. This is the problem right now. We’re dying. People are dying. You’re not safe, honey. The people who are going to be [reading] this are not safe. I’m not safe. Nobody’s safe.

Camilo Viveiros: It’s time to get the priorities corrected. You know, based on love, based on caring, making sure people have basic needs met, not worrying about making corporations rich, not tearing families apart.

Tracy Njie: Can I tell you something? I don’t know who you are, but I appreciate you so much and I just can’t wait for this coronavirus to be over so we can stand together and fight this for everyone. I do not know your parents but they are good people, I’m telling you. If not, you did good with yourself.

Camilo Viveiros: We’re in this together. We’re in this together and you know we’re all trying to work together to make things better. And I really appreciate you sharing your story and we’re hoping folks show solidarity with you.

Tracy Njie: They think you can just like lose somebody and go on. Which people do. Don’t get me wrong, people do. My husband, I’m never giving up on my husband. I’m never, until the day that I die. And he’s in that country with nobody, with nobody.

Anybody that truly believes in God, don’t they know that God’s mad right now? He’s mad because everybody chases money, chases money, every day, chases money, always in a bad mood, and they don’t want to be home. God shut off the money. If people really look at things, God is angry right now because people take advantage and what did He do? He locked you in the house with your family. Everybody has to see each other. He shut off the money and He went back to the roots. You have to sit down with your family no matter what. This is the time that you hold your family close because tomorrow you don’t know.

Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com